Vanderbilt’s knowledge of Kerry Doane might be limited.
But one glance at the stat sheet reveals the durability of the East Tennessee State senior. The right-hander leads the country with 12 complete games and 140 innings pitched.
That is why Doane (13-1, 1.99 ERA) is expected to pitch on four days rest when ETSU faces No. 2 national seed Vanderbilt in an NCAA Regional opener on Friday at Hawkins Field (6 p.m., ESPNU).
“They have a lot of trust in him,” coach Tim Corbin said. “When you get a kid like that, who has thrown a lot of complete games, is older, has some wisdom, has some experience, those guys can be tough on day one.”
Corbin speaks from plenty of experience.
Regional openers haven’t always been kind to the Commodores. In 2008 and 2009, they dropped their first games to Oklahoma and Middle Tennessee State. The Blue Raiders upended Vanderbilt 5-4 thanks to seven solid innings from Kenneth Roberts, who went 11-1 that season and was drafted by the Colorado Rockies the next summer.
In 2007 and 2010, Vanderbilt was pushed to the limit before prevailing in extra innings. Three years ago, they wiggled past Illinois State 8-7 in 13 innings. Back in 2007, Austin Peay’s Shawn Kelley matched David Price in a memorable pitcher’s duel that featured 26 strikeouts from the two hurlers. Kelley, now with the New York Yankees, allowed just five hits and one run in 10 innings. The Commodores were able to scratch across a run against a pair of Govs relievers in the 11th for a 2-1 victory.
Whether the extra-inning affair took a toll is debatable. But the Commodores never took control of the 2007 regional, losing twice to Michigan to become the first – and still the only – No. 1 national seed to not advance to a Super Regional.
“I don’t know if [the Austin Peay game] affected it or not,” Corbin said. “It was just a very tight, close, well-contested game. We had to play hard to win that. Maybe emotionally it [affected Vanderbilt]. I’m not really too sure. Michigan jumped us the next day and we weren’t able to overcome their pitching.”
Doane, who started at shortstop the last three years, leads the Buccaneers (36-22) into their first regional since 1981. He and ETSU will be familiar with the surface at Hawkins Field as the Buccaneers also play their home games on a turf surface.
In 19 games – 16 starts – Doane has given up just 31 earned runs despite allowing 119 hits. The only loss for the Atlantic Sun Conference Pitcher of the Year came on March 16 when he gave up five earned runs on 11 hits in six innings to USC Upstate. His consecutive scoreless innings streak also came to a halt at 20 innings.
Doane will be making his third start in 10 days. The 6-foot, 185-pounder pitched nine innings of an 11-inning game last Wednesday to start the A-Sun tournament. On three days’ rest, and while battling symptoms of strep throat, he allowed just four hits in another complete game. He guided the Bucs to a 7-2 win over Kennesaw State in the A-Sun championship and was named the tournament MVP.
“He is a true No. 1,” Lipscomb coach Jeff Forehand said. “I wouldn’t go out there and say he has first-round stuff. But he is a guy all us coaches love to see take the ball on Friday night. He is one heck of a competitor. I get chills thinking about how good of a player he has become.”
Doane shut down Forehand and the Bisons back on April 12. Lipscomb mustered just five hits and struck out eight times as Doane went the distance in an 8-0 shutout.
Forehand has seen both ETSU and Vanderbilt this year. Lipscomb held Vanderbilt to just five hits but couldn’t muster enough offense in a 4-1 loss in March.
Doane has thrown just 74 strikeouts but Forehand says his movement on his offspeed pitches induces “weak contact.” Friday will present arguably his biggest challenge as he faces a lineup with at least eight hitters batting over .300. As a team, Vanderbilt is tied for sixth in the country with a .317 batting average.
Forehand noted Doane has faced three of nation’s top hitting teams in A-Sun foes North Florida (eighth), Mercer (tied for 30th) and Florida Gulf Coast (tied for 30th).
“If Kerry’s stuff is good and he is inducing soft contact, they’re going to be in a position to win the game,” Forehand said. “You flip that over and what Vanderbilt is going to do as well. They’re so solid offensively and so solid on the mound. It is going to be a very good game because Doane is a true No. 1.”
While Doane and ETSU are foreign territory, Corbin believes his team’s familiarity with the regional setting provides an advantage.
In 2007, Vanderbilt was hosting a regional for the first time. The Commodores were also the top seed in the tournament for the first time. Everything was new. Corbin thinks that team handled the bright lights of the big stage well enough. But he found adjusting to adversity while wearing the huge target of being the top seed was a challenge.
Four years later in 2011, the Commodores, then the No. 6 national seed, handled it a lot better, cruising to five straight wins and the program’s first College World Series.
Thirteen players on this year’s team, including eight starters, contributed to that postseason run. Already being “exposed to the grand stage” will aid this bunch, Corbin said.
If the first day does provide a challenge, the veteran coach is confident he and his team can pull from past experiences.
“I’m comfortable,” Corbin said. “Not comfortable to a point I think I know what we’ve got ahead of us. But I’m comfortable playing in this environment. I think it is great for the kids. We will have a good time here. We will. We’re not going to enter this thing as if we’ve got to do something because the focus is on us. We’re going to continue playing with a lot of energy and have some fun.”